Voices heard: ‘Foragers’ underscores Mint’s ongoing commitment to women artists

Summer Wheat (American, 1977–). Foragers, 2020, colored vinyl on mylar, 805.5 x 738.5 inches. T0263.1a-qqqq. Photo credit: Chris Edwards

Summer Wheat’s monumental Foragers underscores the Mint’s ongoing commitment to women artists, perspectives historically underrepresented in museums

By Michael J. Solender

Uptown visitors meet with a fresh sensory experience this fall as Mint Museum Uptown reopens its doors following the Covid-mandated lockdown. As guests enter the towering glass-paneled Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium, they’re enveloped in warm jewel-toned light bathing the space of the new 96-panel “stained glass” installation Foragers by contemporary American artist Summer Wheat.

And while the quiet beauty of hand-drawn, collaged and placed colored vinyl panels encourage many to slow their pace and reflect in the grandeur, the imagery of strong, powerful women, taking on traditional male roles of hunters and providers, makes a clear and confident statement—women are represented on their own terms, making vital contributions.

The messaging is not accidental. Wheat’s work is deliberate in pushing back on gender objectification and unidimensional portrayal often depicted in museum collections. “Histories we tell, and the histories told to us are never really true,” Wheat says, her slight Oklahoma drawl elongating her cadence. “They’re only telling one side of the story, and there’s a lot that’s left out.”

Wheat, a mid-career artist whose work has been displayed in museums only within the past few years, is bucking a trend unfavorable to women. Just 11 percent of all acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions at 26 prominent American museums over the past decade were of work by female artists, according to a recent study by art market information company Artnet.

Recognizing this historical underrepresentation of women’s voices on public display, the Mint is leading the way to better balance the scales. “We have a strong community partner and advocate in Wells Fargo whose values align so closely with the museum on this important social and cultural issue,” says Todd Herman, Mint Museum President & CEO, “Something  we really admire and treasure in the relationship we’ve had with Wells Fargo is they collaborate with us and push us further in ways that make the community better. Their Women Artist Fund and their support of our Foragers installation is a wonderful example of that.”

Charlotte knows Wells Fargo as a significant community partner and stalwart investor in our region’s diversity and success. Their foundation focuses on projects and innovation at the community level such as awareness and social change, increasing housing affordability, and access to capital for businesses. Last year, they contributed more than $14 million in support of projects and programing in the Charlotte region. In addition to programmatic work with quantitative measure, like the number of low-income individuals placed into safe and affordable housing, a component of the foundation’s work focuses on bringing perspectives and understanding to social issues through the arts.

“As company, we’re one of the largest small business lenders to women owned businesses,” says Jay Everette, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. “With the arts and culture sector of our [philanthropic] work, we realize putting a focus on female artists helps elevate and escalate women’s voices through promoting their artwork. Not only is Foragers a significant work by an important female artist, it’s also public art that anybody can come in and access without having to pay a fee.”

It was the Mint Museum’s 80th anniversary celebration and the 2016 Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition that served as a catalyst for the formation of the Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund according to Everette. “We were beginning to formulate some of the strategies on this and through the exhibition discovered there were a group of other women artists leading the way in the movement.  But they did not have gallery representation. They were not being picked up by museums after the abstract expressionist movement.”

Inspired, the Wells Fargo Foundation set about to address and help reconcile the imbalance of female representation in museum collections. “The Women Artist Fund was established three years ago, and we’ve been successful in helping to place and acquire seminal pieces of art in permanent museum collections across North Carolina,” says Everette. Other museums benefiting from the program include the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art in Greensboro, and The Blowing Rock Art Museum in Blowing Rock.

Admirers of Summer Wheat’s Foragers, on display through September 6, 2022, will be pleased to note that through the generosity of The Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artist Fund, the artist’s work With Side, With Shoulder, a large painting where Wheat’s technique extrudes paint through wire mesh, has been acquired for the Mint’s permanent collection.

Mary Myers Dwelle, one of the Mint’s female founders would undoubtedly be pleased.

Foragers is part of the exhibition In Vivid Color: Pushing the Boundaries of Perception in Contemporary Art that opens Oct. 16 at Mint Museum Uptown.

Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, American City Business Journals, Metropolis Magazine, Business North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer, and others. He develops custom content and communications for businesses and organizations.

Celebration photos from our reopening

Celebration photos of our reopening

Mint Museum Uptown and Mint Museum Randolph re-opened to the public with a celebratory weekend of music and free admission. Look back at photos captured during the celebration.

 

Photos by Alex Cason. All weekend celebration activities were sponsored by Chase.

15+ items that celebrate women, and the women’s right to vote

 

Suffragette Bookend from Silk Road Bazaar (fair trade and made by women), $36 // Susan B. Anthony Ornament from Silk Road Bazaar (fair trade and made by women), $24 // VOTE Enamel Pin, $12 // 19th Amendmints, $4

15+ items that celebrate women, and the centennial of women’s suffrage

This one’s for the women — and men who respect women’s rights. This year marks the centennial anniversary of women getting the right to vote. On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th amendment passed giving women the right to vote. The vote opened opportunities for women to innovate, create and legislate for women’s rights — and art by women for women has always been a social commentary to push change. As a matter of fact, The Mint Museum’s history is rich with generations of women dedicating time to establish and grow The Mint Museum, including Mary Myers Dwelle who was the driving force behind the creation of the first art museum in North Carolina. Read more about how the Mint’s history is women’s history.

The curated list of art, books, cards and more below celebrate the strength and voice of women, and are all available at the Mint Museum Store.

 

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall $26  // Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico, $19.99.

Books that tell “her”story.


 

eeBoo 100 Piece Votes for Women, $18 // 500 Piece Women’s March Puzzle, $24

Pandemic puzzle project with a lesson. Get it for the kids and you. eeBoo is “Woman Owned. Mother Run. Sustainable Sourced.”


The Illustrated Feminist: 50 Postcards by Aura Lewis, $15.99

Send a note of inspiration with these notecards that celebrate strong women.


Dean and Martin Pottery (pictured pottery is made by Stephanie Nicole Martin) $60-$198

A reminder in every sip of the different women and how each has made a difference in their own way.


RBG bookend from Silk Road Bazaar (fair trade and made by women), $36 // RBG puzzle, $24 // RBG mug, $16

The notorious R.B.G once said “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”


“The New Woman’s Survival Catalog,” $30

Originally published in 1973, The New Woman’s Survival Catalog is a survey of the second-wave feminist effort across the United States.


Calhoun & Co. throw blankets, $130. Designs are created from illustrations and artwork by founder Kerry Stokes

A throw with a thoughtful message and design — something we can all use a little more of these days.

Celebrating Juneteenth with community discussions, music, storytelling and more

Celebrating Juneteenth with community discussions, music, storytelling and more

We are entering a new age in our country, where many are opening their eyes, affirming that #BlackLivesMatter, and educating themselves on the still very current issues of racism in America. With these conversations has come the recognition and awareness of Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger brought news to Galveston, Texas that the war had ended and that the enslaved were free. This news was delivered two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and symbolizes the news finally reaching the whole country.

In honor of Juneteenth, and the continued work that is needed to end systemic racism in America, cultural organizations and community groups across Charlotte are hosting programs from block parties and food drives to panels and family days. We encourage everyone to join virtually or in-person (with social distancing, of course), and let the history, creativity, and celebration inspire you to continue learning and doing the work to put an end to racism in our country. 

June 19

The 23rd annual Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas will be held June 19-21 from 10 AM to 8 PM at House of Africa in Plaza Midwood. Attendees can expect a multi-cultural celebration filled with drum circles, local vendors, performances, as well as an open mic. The event is free, and social distancing measures will be honored.

 

Levine Museum of the New South is hosting a virtual Juneteenth celebration for families from 9 AM to 5 PM. The festivities can be accessed via the museum’s Facebook and Youtube channel, and will feature spoken word, storytelling, history, and music. Visit the website to view the schedule of performances and talks

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library invites ages 12 and older to the virtual Engage 2020: Juneteenth Lunch and Learn noon to 1:30 PM. Learn more about the past, present, and future of civic engagement. Special guest Elisha Minter will reflect on Juneteenth celebrations in Charlotte. Register with a valid email address and the meeting link will be sent a few hours before the program begins.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is hosting an art workshop with artist and educator Alicia L. McDaniel from 3-4 PM, This event is free and people of all ages are encouraged to participate. For more information on supplies or how to join in, visit the Gantt’s website. 

Charlotte Ballet is offering free admission to its regularly scheduled intersession classes (different classes taking place at 3 and 4 PM) and ask that participants donate money that they would have spent on attending the class to an organization that is doing work to advance racial equality in Charlotte or nationwide. More information and class schedules can be found on the Charlotte Ballet website.

From 5-8 PM, the Coalition for a New South is hosting a food truck rally at Hornets Nest Park on Beatties Ford Road. The socially distanced event will be filled with food, music, and speakers. It also serves as a space to remember victims of police brutality and an event to call participants to anti-racist action. More details and park location can be found on the Facebook event page for the gathering. 

June 20

SEAS University, Unitymarkets, and Riziki Zafira together are hosting a Juneteenth Social Distance Community Celebration, filled with community vendors, live entertainment, give-aways, and more. The family-friendly event takes place from noon to 4 PM, and then transitions into a day party for adults from 4-8 PM. The event is free, and more information can be found on the event Facebook page.

6 art books that raise the curtain on black artists, racism and protest

6 art books that raise the curtain for black artists, racism and protest

As society grapples with unrest around racism and protest, books about black artists and black history shine a spotlight on the struggles and accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. These six books, and many others, are available at Mint Museum Store uptown.


Protest. The Aesthetics of Resistance

Illustrated with expressive photographs and posters, Protest. considers social, culture-historical, sociological, and politological perspectives, as well as approaches that draw on visual theory, popular culture, and cultural studies. In the process, the book takes into account in particular such contemporary developments as the virtualization of protest, how it has been turned into the fictional and its exploitation in politics by power holders of all shades. (Lars Muller Publishers, $29.95).


Hip Hop Raised Me by DJ Semtex

In Hip Hop Raised Me., updated for 2018, DJ Semtex examines the crucial role of hip-hop in society today, and reflects on the huge influence it has had on his own life, and the lives of many others, filling in the gaps of education that school left behind, providing inspiration and purpose to generation after generation of disaffected youths. Taking a thematic approach and featuring seminal interviews he has conducted with key hip-hop artists, Semtex traces the characteristics and influence of hip-hop from its origins in the early 1970s to the impact of contemporary artists and the global industry that is hip-hop today. (Thames and Hudson, $40).


30 Americans: Rubell Museum

30 Americans showcases works by many of the most important African American artists of the last three decades. The artwork focuses on issues of racial, sexual, and historical identity in contemporary culture while exploring the powerful influence of artistic legacy and community across generations. Since the 1960s, Miami’s Rubell family has collected the works of the most relevant contemporary African American artists as an integral part of their broader mission to collect the most interesting art of our time, which is showcased in the book. (Rubell Family Collection, $45).


Jill Freedman: Resurrection City, 1968

“Originally published in 1970, Jill Freedman’s Old News: Resurrection City documented the culmination of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination. Three thousand people set up camp for six weeks in a makeshift town that was dubbed Resurrection City, and participated in daily protests. Freedman lived in the encampment for its entire six weeks, photographing the residents, their daily lives, their protests and their eventual eviction. This new 50th-anniversary edition of the book reprints most of the pictures from the original publication, with improved printing and a more vivid design. Alongside Freedman’s hard-hitting original text, two introductory essays are included.” (Grossman Publishers, $45).


 

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

Filled with reproductions of Kehinde Wiley’s bold, colorful and monumental work, this book encompasses the artist’s various series of paintings as well as his sculptural work, which boldly explore ideas about race, power, and tradition. Celebrated for his classically styled paintings that depict African American men in heroic poses, Kehinde Wiley is among the expanding ranks of prominent black artists who are reworking art history and questioning its depictions of people of color. This volume surveys Wiley’s career from 2001 to the present. It includes early portraits of the men Wiley observed on Harlem’s streets, and which laid the foundation for his acclaimed reworkings of Old Master paintings in which he replaces historical subjects with young African American men in contemporary attire: puffy jackets, sneakers, hoodies, and baseball caps. (Prestel, $49.95).


Messages from Home: The Art of Leo Twiggs (Signed Copy)

Foreword from book by William U. Eiland : “In the middle of one of the interminable brouhahas over the Confederate Battle Flag here in the South, I heard of an African-American artist who was using the symbol in innovative ways, painting it in batik to invest it with new meaning. Leo Twiggs’ flags are no paeans to a lost cause, no emblems even of a mythic past. They are, however, in the language of contemporary criticism, ‘comments’ on society through ‘appropriation.’ In this case, theoretical cliché comes close to truth. Twiggs, with gentle but unswerving irony, takes the flag and claims it as part of his Southern heritage. Tattered, disappearing almost, the standard about which so much controversy has been generated becomes in Twiggs’ hand an ambiguous metaphor of unresolved conflict and shared history. Such images on color-infused fabric not only mock the flag as a talisman losing its power, but also present a symbol that in its very mutability and degradation is strangely current, yet jarringly discomfiting in an era when the nation has a black president. In addition to the Civil War, it calls to mind for Twiggs the suffering of slaves, the turmoil of Reconstruction, the indignity of Jim Crow, the promise of the Civil Rights era and its aftermath, when this piece of cloth, venerated by some, reviled by others, continues to inspire argument and dissent. Twiggs transforms the image through shaping a new iconography for it, one in which he finds the possibility, albeit remote, of accord. Twiggs’ art, thus, even with the most explosive of subjects, is intensely personal but never strident. Through depictions of the violence of hurricanes, the complexity of race relations, the romance of Southern rivers, and the bonds of family, he weaves his experiences into a coherent, but occasionally elusive narrative. (Cecil Williams Photography/Publishing / Claflin University Press, $82).

Create your own Chihuly-like sculpture

Create your own Chihuly-like sculpture

Inspired by Royal Blue Mint Chandelier by Dale Chihuly that hangs in the Carroll Gallery at Mint Museum Uptown, this project incorporates layering and mixing colors while using recycled materials from home. Watch how Royal Blue Mint Chandelier was moved to the Mint Museum Uptown.

MATERIALS

  • Old wire hanger (the thinner the metal, the easier it is to bend) 
  • Recycled plastic bottles 
  • Paint 
  • Paint brush 
  • Scissors (pointed tip work best) 
  • Corks (optional) 
  • Pliers or metal snips (optional) 

NOTE: This project is geared to older children and teens. To simplify this for younger children, precut the plastic bottles and begin at step 4.



1. Begin by removing the paper rod from the hanger. Either bend or snip off ends of the hanger so that the corks can be attached. If you don’t have any corks or wire cutters, just bend the two ends of the hanger in opposite directions. This will create the bottom of your chandelier and keep the plastic bottles from falling off the hanger. Option: If you don’t have a metal hanger, you can create a sculpture that sits flat. 

2. Using scissors, cut off the tops or bottoms of the plastic bottles. Squeezing the bottle flat makes cutting easier. Once that is done, cut on a spiral or in straight lines stopping near the top. Leave enough of the top or bottom of the bottle so that they can be stacked together. Alternating tops and bottoms will create space between layers. Play with both options to see which one appeals to you before cutting all your bottles. (The thickness of the plastic bottles varies by brand; you may need to ask someone for help with the cutting). 

 


3. If you are using the bottoms of the bottles be careful not to make the hole too big or it will not stay on the hanger. (See lower part of the photo). If you are using the tops of the bottles, cut just below the mouth of the bottle where the plastic becomes thinner. (See upper part of the photo). 

 

4. After you have decided how many bottles you want to use and how you will stack them, paint them any way you like. If you want the bottom of your chandelier to be seen, paint or decorate your corks. Make sure the paint is dry before assembling. 

 



5. Slide each bottle over the top of the hanger, stacking one inside the other. Bending or rolling the plastic strips in the opposite direction will take out some of the curl and create a straighter piece. Have fun creating your own unique work of art! 

Challenge: Build a wire armature to create a larger piece. Be sure to watch the video below to see how Dale Chihuly built his chandelierAdd a strand of battery operated mini lights to make this project shine! 


 

‘I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down,’ says Asheville-based artist Nava Lubelski

‘I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes.’

Asheville-based fiber artist Nava Lubelski transforms textiles with embroidery that pierces through splashes of stain and color. She fills tears and holes with delicate lace stitching that result in abstract creations. Her piece Chance of Flurries, 2011 is part of the permanent collection at The Mint Museum.

Studio location: Asheville, North Carolina

 

Nava Lubelski at home with her 7-year-old son.


Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Rina Bannerjee, Ghada Amer, Bruce Naumann, Lee Krasner, Tom Friedman, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sarah Sze.

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I’m fond of Day Dreams, 2008. I feel like the simplified color palette highlights the juxtaposition between luscious, detailed stitching and wild, organic splatters. I also am proud of the piece in the Mint Museum collection, Chance of Flurries, 2011.  

Nava Lubelski (American, 1968–). Chance of Flurries, 2011, acrylic paint and hand stitching on canvas. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Mike and Betsy Blair in memory of Catherine Schiff Blair. 2016.31

How does your environment influence your art?

I respond to both chaos and calm. I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes. 

The yellow is”Tidying Up, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread and manufactured trimming on canvas.

 Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I’m finding it hard to focus on my usual work right now, with a kid at home full-time, and have been playing with more immediate projects, mailing out impromptu handmade books and working on drawings. Luckily, I am an imperfectionist, so I just believe in trying hard and seeing what happens, but it doesn’t have to go a certain way.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down. I think people are already seeing clearly that things are not and have not been working well for all of us.

What does your daily routine look like now? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

My husband has closed his office, so my work space right now is filled with a lot of additional equipment and in turn I’ve sprawled out into the living room. My afternoons tend to be busy with family/dog walks in the woods. Mornings are when I can catch some alone time. I enjoy lying in the dark and seeing what comes. I’m not someone who fears insomnia. I appreciate the quiet and the dark, and the chance to feel what I’m feeling and hear my own thoughts, though they aren’t always pleasant. 

“The Deadly Ooh Business, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread, yarn and wire on canvas.

What’s you cooking these days?

I like cobbling together Indian-type meals. I’m not good at following recipes, but I’m pretty good at winging it.

What are you currently reading?

At the moment it’s mostly news, although I read Red Clocks not too long ago. Most of my reading stamina lately seems to be used up by reading Fablehaven to my son.

What is your favorite music choice?

My husband has been at home playing guitar all day, so that’s pretty much my soundtrack right now.

What is your favorite podcast?

For easy entertainment I like Reply All.

From war-torn Colombia to the Mint: How one staffer found her home away from home at the museum

From war-torn Colombia to the Mint: how one staffer found her home away from home at the museum

We at the Mint were so excited about International Museum Day this Monday, May 18 that we decided to unroll a week of content for it. And how better to round out the week than to tell the story of this year’s theme—diversity—than through the story of one of the Mint’s crown jewels: Kurma Murrain.

A native of Colombia, South America, Murrain joined the Mint team as community programs coordinator in 2018, where she (alongside Rubie Britt-Height, director of community relations) helps organize some of the museum’s most dynamic programming catering to the region’s international audience and anyone who wants a taste of the world outside Charlotte. Murrain is also an award-winning poet, a talented performer (she was part of The Vagina Monologues at Queens University of Charlotte in 2016), and always ready with an easy laugh.

Here’s Murrain’s story, as told to Caroline Portillo. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

I grew up in Bogota, Colombia, in the mountains. I was always writing something — I started with little poems for my mom about how much I loved her. Then in my early teen years at school, I always wanted to share what I was writing with my friends. The teachers noticed and started calling on me to read my poems: in the classroom, on Mother’s Day, on Teacher’s Day. When I was taking physics in high school, I was so bad at it. Failing miserably, and there was no way I was going to pass that class. Then one day my physics teacher came in the classroom, after having read a poem I’d posted on the bulletin board at school. He said, “You don’t need to study physics. You have a talent. I’ll give you a passing grade.” 

Escobar, narcos and ‘a good place to be’ 

We watch a lot of American TV and movies in Colombia. I grew up poor, and to watch those TV shows, I thought everybody in the United States lived an abundant life, and had beautiful houses. Plus, in my country, there was a lot of racism. My brother and I were usually the only black students in the school,  and we were bullied because we were black. I didn’t see that on the TV shows in the United States, so I thought, “that’s a good place to be.” 

I was also living in Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar and the narco war. I experienced so many horrendous things. They were killing everybody—journalists, artists, important people from the government. They were kidnapping and putting car bombs everywhere. So, yes, I was dreaming about the United States, but I also had another motivation to get out of there.

[NOTE: I am happy to report that Colombia’s former president Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring the nation’s more than 50-year civil war to an end. Colombia is now a safer, more beautiful place.]

The Warmth of Other Suns program at The Mint Museum

In 1998, a coworker told me the YMCA was recruiting summer camp counselors from other countries. I was hired to work at a special needs camp in New Jersey for three months. I had my first experience in the United States and wanted to come back. I came back in 2000 to work at another special needs camp in the Catskills in New York. 

Afterward, I kept thinking “I want to go back, but I want to work in my field, education.” In Colombia, I was teaching English at several universities and teaching private classes at a bank, so my friend told me about a program called Visiting International Faculty, that hires teachers to come to the U.S. for three to five years. 

I called them and told them about my experience, and they said I was the perfect candidate except for one little thing: I needed to have had a drivers’ license for at least two years. I didn’t drive. So I started taking classes, got my license. This was the thing I’d been dreaming of my whole life, so I was like, “OK, it’s only two years.” 

I was 32 when I could finally apply to be a teacher in the US. I marked on my application that I wanted to work in California. That’s what I’d seen in the movies. But it was a school in Charlotte that wanted me, South Meck High School. And they wanted me to be there in two weeks. I had a mini panic attack, heart attack, and stroke at the same time. And when I saw the email, I said “Charlotte?” 

I even considered not going because I’d fallen in love. And this man was gorgeous. But when I told him, “Hey I got this email and I may go to Charlotte in two weeks,” he started laughing. I said, “What the heck?” 

And he said, “I’m laughing because my best friends live in Charlotte.”

‘Like Disneyland’ 

It was amazing. The guy I was dating made introductions on email, and his friends said I could stay with them at their home off Carmel Road while I settled down. I didn’t even have a car, so they took me to school and picked me up in the afternoon. I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at South Meck for three years. 

In 2005, one of the Spanish teachers, Mr. Lopez, told me there was a poetry contest at the Mint Museum. You didn’t have to sign up for anything. Just show up and read your poem. 

We went straight to the auditorium at Mint Museum Randolph. I didn’t win, but there were more contests at the Mint—four a year—and I won three consecutive times between 2005 and 2006.

Winner of Poesía Viva at The Mint Museum, 2006 (Primera Fila)

I met Rubie Britt Height, the Mint’s director of community relations, in 2012. I was getting an award at the main library uptown and asked the audience if I could read a poem I’d written for my mother who had passed just three months earlier. After I read the poem, Rubie had her mouth open in awe. Then she started inviting me to events at the museum to read my poems, especially Mint to Move. Before everyone started dancing, I would read a poem. 

Waiting to receive an award for Latin American artists at the Main Library & the day I met Mint’s Director of Community Relations, Rubie Britt-Height

In 2016, I went to teach English in China for a year. I love adventure. But even while I was there, Rubie asked me to send a video of a poem for the Mint’s Día de las Velitas (Day of the Candles)   celebration, a Colombian tradition, that December. And a few months later, she had an event at
the museum while I was visiting a cousin in Thailand, and she asked me to read a poem I wrote while I was in China. Because of the time difference, I got up at 5 AM to get ready to connect to Charlotte via Skype. 

When I came back to the U.S. I returned to teach Spanish at a school in South Carolina, but I wasn’t fulfilled. Then Rubie gave me a call. She said there was a position open at the Mint for a community programs coordinator and that I should apply. 

When they hired me on April 30, 2018, I was ecstatic. The Mint was the best place in the world. Like Disneyland.

Photoshoot for Immersed In Light video

Called to be inspired

The Mint is the most beautiful place. It’s quiet. It calls you to meditate, to be inspired. And my coworkers are so kind. Before working at the Mint, I already had strong ties to the Latin community and the artistic community. I’d been on panels and shared poetry at places like Queens University and Johnson C. Smith University. But being at The Mint Museum now is a platform on which I can help others.

It’s exciting to plan for them, to talk to the performers, to see them and see the reaction of the people. It makes me feel accomplished, too. After each event I think, “Wow, this was great. And I was part of it.” 

What I love about the Mint’s programming is I am able to see such a variety of artists, painters, musicians, dancers, poets. It’s such a great array. Every program is so unique and brings a different public. 

The Mint is a big part of the Latin community. At Mint Música & Poesía Café—a biannual event that features talented poets, dancers and musicians from the region— we’ve had a salsa dancer who’s now dancing at an academy in New York. We’ve had a cellist from Colombia play while a PowerPoint of photos from Colombian landscapes played. We’ve had a poet from Puerto Rico share a powerful story about his father.

Mint Música & Poesía Café w/ Puerto Rican Poet Neftalí Ortiz

Before I worked at the Mint and heard about Mint to Move—our bimonthly cultural dance night that regularly draws 300 to 400 people—I was like “We can dance at the museum? And there’s a DJ and sometimes a live band playing? Oh my gosh.” So I started bringing all my friends. 

Through Mint to Move, I’ve met black people from other Latin American areas and countries, such as Puerto Rico, Cuba. They understand the struggle. For instance, I teach with the Mint’s Grier Heights Youth Art Program on Wednesdays. The children think I’m black before I speak. And then once I speak, they just open their eyes and are like, “you’re not black.”

“But, wait,” I ask them. “Why does that change?” I have to explain to them that slavery came to North America, but also to all parts of America: Central America, South America, the Carribbean. They don’t teach that at school.

Cumbia (traditional Colombian dance) performance at Mint to Move

It’s very touching to be able to see and experience artists who are from your country or any Latin American country. It’s like bringing a little bit of home to the community. And the language—to be able to listen to poetry or music in Spanish. The older people especially get so emotional when they can listen to their language and talk to people like me. It’s a great way to stay connected to their community and their country. 

Then I also work with people who just want to know more about Latin American culture. We had a group from UNC Charlotte and another at Johnson C. Smith University who started coming to Mint Música & Poesia Café and Mint to Move. They just love these events. Then there’s Bilingual Stories & Music, which draws Latin families, Asian families, African-American families, white families. And there are so many marriages with spouses from the U.S. who want to learn about their spouses’ cultures through our programs. It’s a beautiful connection they make because they have that special person next to them, and they’re experiencing the programs together. They can see through different eyes. And because of the Mint, I get to be a part of that.

‘I believe something really positive will emerge out of this global experience of our shared vulnerability,’ says artist Sheila Gallagher

Artist Sheila Gallagher finds inspiration for her artwork in everything she sees.

‘I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be.’

Artist, and mom to a high school senior, Sheila Gallagher is an associate professor of fine art at Boston College where she teaches courses on drawing, painting and contemporary art practice. While sheltering at home, she continues to sketch and work in her studio, is relishing a more leisurely schedule, and also tackling a few domestic projects like making curtains. Her artwork, Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, is part of the permanent collection at the Mint.

Studio location: Boston, Massachusetts

 

Describe the artwork you create and medium you use.

I am an interdisciplinary/hybrid artist and I use any material necessary. I make paintings out of smoke, plastic trash, live flowers … anything. I also make videos and do live drawing performances.

Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Oh so many! My new art crush is Formafantasma that uses lidar technology to make visually riveting animations that explore life from the perspective of a forest. I am always inspired by the work of artists like Doris Salcedo, Sister Corita, Sarah Sze, and Sanford Biggers who have great minds and deep hearts and really understand form and materiality. And anyone really who knows how to draw: Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Gros. Even though he is unpopular, I think Hans Bellmar makes incredibly beautiful lines.

I also love the work of a little known self-taught Bahamian painter named Amos Ferguson. But if I could only have one piece of art to behold for the rest of my life it would be Stargazer, a small transclucent white marble statue of a female figure from approximately 4,000 BC that I saw at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and think about all the time. Cultures come and go.

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I think it may very well be Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, a large plastic painting that was commissioned by The Mint Museum and included in the Under Construction exhibition (now part of the permanent collection). I really had to wrestle it to the ground to get the composition to work, and I ended up really liking the psychedelic palette and all of the hidden images and words. I also think it might be one of my favorites because it probably has more hours of me in it than almost any other piece, and I have very fun memories of working with two saintly assistants, Claire and Rachel, who have great voices, and were always singing and willing to pull all nighters with me.

Sheila Gallagher (American). Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebula, 2018, melted plastic on armature. Museum purchase with funds provided by Wells Fargo. 2018.48

How does your environment influence your art?

Everything in my sight line influences my art. I am like a bower bird drawn to every shiny piece of trash. My house and studio are chock full of images and objects and books and small pieces of ephemera. Anything can be a material or mnemonic device. My teenage son has accused us of “drowning in meaningfulness” and likes to remind me that not everything can be special . But I wonder, why not? I don’t think I am quite a hoarder, but under the right wrong circumstances could definitely lean that way.

Tell us about your new morning routine, including when you start your day and how you spend the early hours.

I have to say, I am growing quite fond of my “shelter-in-place” mornings. Now that my son is finishing high school online, the mornings are much more leisurely. I usually wake up around 7:30 AM and listen to a book on tape for about 30 minutes. Then I go downstairs and get tea and toast and take them back to bed and read under the covers. I try not to look at the news before I meditate. At around 9 AM I start checking texts and emails and jumping all over the internet. When I feel myself going down an unproductive rabbit hole, I jump up and make the bed and a to-do list and try to get cracking.

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be. I am definitely going inward and trying to cultivate intuition and discernment, which I have to trust will ultimately manifest in artwork, Inshallah. For now it doesn’t feel right to plan a big exhibition, and I have put aside some large projects. Like a lot of artists I know, in this moment I feel drawn to a collective creativity while at the same time find myself more comfortable doing small and quiet solo things like sketching and making little collages in my sketchbook.

Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?

With everyone working remotely, my house has never felt more crowded, and I feel very grateful to have a studio for escape and solitude. Most afternoons are a combo platter of studio and house. Everyday I do e-mails and draw and I try to stay connected with my art practice, teaching job and friends. Taking walks is the new going out for drinks.

I find I have a new found interest in domestic projects like making curtains, cooking soup, and organizing the laundry closet. My house has never been so clean. Now that Purell is an endangered product, we have started making artisanal hand sanitizer (called Mom’s Napalm) out of grain alcohol, witch hazel, eucalyptus oil, cloves and my secret ingredient: holy water from Saint Brigid’s Well in Ireland.

Gallagher created her own artisanal hand sanitizer while sheltering at home that her family named “Mom’s Napalm”

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I believe something really positive will emerge out of this global experience of our shared vulnerability. There is a possibility for deep transformation where the world’s resources, scientific intelligence and good will are forever put at the service of the common good and protecting the most fragile amongst us. I was very moved by a An Imagined Letter from COVID-19 to Humans by Kristin Flyntz , which eloquently imagines a more earth-centeredb mindset.

Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

After dinner we usually read and/or watch a show. I am really into the series the New Pope Stylin. Lately we have also been getting into making “God’s Eyes” out of yarn. Very easy and very therapeutic and a welcome break from the screen. I am also a big fan of online yoga classes.

Gallagher at her studio in front of a collection of yarn God’s eyes that she’s made for a friend’s shrine. “I highly recommend Gods eyes as excellent pandemic therapy,” she says.

What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?

Seafood soup and warm buttered toast, and hot tea with coconut cake, and red wine.

What are you currently reading?

Lots of poetry, too much news, Hyperallergic, Jerry Saltz, Richard Rohr, John Prendergast, and Akin by Emma O’Donoghue.

What is your favorite music choice?

These days I find myself drawn to chanting, and silly 80’s dance music.

What is your favorite podcast(s)?

I am more of a books -on-tape kind of gal. Right now I am listening to Kevin Barry read his new novel, Might Boat to Tangiers.

De-stress making a mandala

De-stress making a mandala

A mandala is a circular geometric configuration of symbols. With roots in Southeast Asian spiritual tradition, many today use these as a form of focused concentration, meditation, and relaxation. Art making also helps to identify and express emotion. This exercise uses symbols and colors to convey feelings.  

Supplies

  • Sheet of paper or paper plate 

  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons 

  • A small round object such as a penny 

  • Ruler or measuring tape (or you can just eyeball it) 

Start by thinking of symbols that you like or that have meaning in your life. You can sketch some out on a separate piece of paper.

Next, think of a list of feelings and write them down. Decide which color best matches the feeling and make a mark for yourself so that you can look back at it as you create your mandala.  

Find the center of your paper or paper plate using a measuring device. Trace a small object over the top of the center point. This will give you a starting place. Working from the center, create patterns using symbols or colors that express your feelings.

Reflect on your finished piece. What colors are you drawn to? What feelings did you assign to those colors? Did you notice any change in your feelings as you progressed through the activity?